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Architecture & Engineering

Emma Hinchliffeh
Emma Hinchliffe

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July 27, 2022

Talking History: SPL's Carnegie libraries provide modern service in lovingly maintained historic surroundings

A/E Editor

When Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) began donating money for the construction of libraries he probably could not have predicted the impact he would have on the civic architecture of American cities, Seattle included. Eight Carnegie libraries were built in the city between 1904 and 1921. Seven still stand. Six remain libraries operated by The Seattle Public Library. These are the Fremont, Queen Anne, Green Lake, University, Columbia and West Seattle branches. The seventh is home to the Kangaroo & Kiwi bar in Ballard.

Today, SPL works hard to steward and maintain these striking 19th century properties whilst also ensuring they are fit to serve patrons in the 21st. This means providing modern-day services that Carnegie himself couldn't have imagined, such as computers and multipurpose community rooms, and ensuring that the buildings are compliant with current safety, accessibility and energy codes. This is no simple task especially considering that all of SPL's Carnegies are landmarked, meaning that any work and/or changes must be approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Board.

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